Dempster Highway Southbound
We completed the round trip on the Dempster Highway today and are back in Dawson City, YT after spending the night 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Inuvik, The Northwest Territories. It was our first night in which the sun never set. At 1am it was as much daylight outside as it had been at 8pm. Amazing! There are so many things to include regarding the last 24 hours, so we’ll try (but probably fail) to keep it to just the “headlines”.
Inuvik is a “new town”. About 15 years ago the former village was flooded out by the MacKenzie River, so the Government of The Northwest Territories built this new town, relocating the residents from the previous town. It looks new, with little difference in architecture between the government buildings and multi-family residences. The only unique structure in town is the “Igloo Church”. Have we mentioned that place names up here are VERY literal?
470 miles of gravel road, each way, tends to take its toll on tires. The Dempster is famous for causing flats, and travelers are advised to carry two spares. On the recommendation of our friend Reed Griffith, Bob bought new 10-ply tires for the truck in preparation for this trip. This morning we woke to find a flat tire, so the first order of business was to find the Speedy Auto Store in Inuvik. We felt lucky we only had one flat, and it happened in town where Bob didn’t even have to get his hands dirty. When we got back to Dawson City, we ended up camped next to a couple we’d met yesterday at the Arctic Circle where they were changing a tire. They had a total of 3 flats and one blow-out while on the Dempster. They too bought new tires before leaving home, but 4-ply. Thanks for the recommendation Reed!
While we were hanging around the Speedy Auto Store getting the tire changed, Cathryn struck up a conversation with the young man performing the tire repair. He had the appearance of a First Nation citizen, and she asked if he’d always lived in Inuvik. He said he was born and raised in the village of Tuktoyaktuk (called “Tuk” for short) and moved to Inuvik 5 years ago. She asked which town he preferred, and he got a sad look on his face and said he only came to Inuvik for the job, and really missed his family and home, but no full-time employment was available in Tuk. This conversation reminded us of similar sentiments we heard from Mexicans in Baja who lived i n small villages and worked as farmers or fishermen, but there were no high schools in town, so their children went to the larger cities of La Paz, Cabo San Lucas or others, and never returned to the small town to work in the family business. Instead, they became waiters or other entry-level workers in the city’s service industry. All over the world, this sort of change is occurring, with young people leaving villages and towns, and going to big cities to become “wage slaves” (as the rest of us Big City residents have long ago done), and not returning to their families, and losing the survival skills they once had. We can’t help but wonder whether this constitutes “progress”.
We looked for wildlife on the Dempster both north and southbound. On the way up we saw two grizzlies in the distance and attempted to get photos, but the distance was too great, and we couldn’t get a clear shot. Today we passed the same spot, and lo and behold, there they were again, except this time even closer to the road. At the gas station a few miles later, Cathryn got into a conversation with the attendant, and he explained that Grizzlies come in all colors: brown, cinnamon, blonde and off-white. He said the larger brown male (see photo) has been in the vicinity for quite a few years, and the off-white female joined him several years ago. She had two cubs with her, but this season “they became two-year-olds, so she sent them off to live on their own, and is probably busy making new cubs with this old guy”. (Gosh, I wish we humans had that option, occasionally, to send our terrible-two-year-olds off on their own!)
This is another theoretically common animal on the Dempster which we didn’t see yesterday. But guess what? Today we saw these three females, right where the book said they would be!
Headed south on the last third of the Dempster, the air became thick with smoke. So thick, in fact, that the sun was almost obscured, and the temperature dropped 25 degrees, from 74 at the Arctic Circle to 50! Mountains that had been completely clear yesterday were barely visible. Luckily, by the time we got back to Dawson City, conditions had much improved. Only later did we hear there was a large fire along the Dempster, which we never saw, and that the road will likely be closed today. We’re glad we didn’t get stuck up there!
We’ve been paying pretty close to $4.00 a gallon for gas in British Columbia and Yukon Territory, but the trip up the Klondike and Dempster set a new standard. Here in Dawson City it’s almost $5.00 a gallon and we paid $5.40 in Inuvik.